LOS ANGELES Clippers coach Doc Rivers warned his team this might happen -- and then it did.
The Clippers have been anointed one of the best teams on the planet, a team full of star power and exceptional coaching. A team, some say, that's capable of reaching the NBA Finals.
It also puts a large target on their backs, the kind they realized Tuesday night when they lost their season opener to the Kobe Bryant-less Lakers 116-103 at Staples Center.
"I kept saying it all week," Rivers said. "That team heard for four or five months how good we are. I told our guys tonight, and you can ask them, 'We're fighting human nature. That team is coming after you with everything they have, and I don't know if you can match it.'
"At the end of the day, we did not."
On the first night of what is supposed to be an epic season, the Clippers discovered that they're a work in progress. They also learned that opponents will love nothing more than to upset their march toward a possible championship run.
Their first step out of the box was woefully short of what Rivers expects. The Lakers were more energetic and more intense, and when the game got down to its critical moments in the fourth quarter, they made the plays that counted.
"They out-played us," forward Blake Griffin said. "They were ready, and they turned up the heat in the fourth quarter, and we didn't respond."
The Lakers out-scored the Clippers 41-24 in the final period, but they also out-rebounded them in the game 52-40, had 18 offensive rebounds and held a 30-16 edge in second-chance points.
When the Clippers needed a defensive stop or a rebound, they didn't get it. And all of this came against the Lakers reserves, who out-scored their starting five 76-40.
"We have to go back to the drawing board," guard Chris Paul said. "We relaxed a little bit. I think that starts with me."
It wasn't a night for pointing fingers. As Rivers and Paul reminded everyone, it was one game. There are 81 remaining.
So you live and learn and you figure out how to get better.
"It's disappointing," Jamal Crawford said, "but it shows we have room for growth, obviously. They played a solid game, but we have work to do."
It wasn't all bad. Center DeAndre Jordan played 35 minutes and had 17 points, 11 rebounds and 3 blocked shots. Paul had 15 points and 11 assists, and Griffin totaled 19 points. But the Clippers also shot just 56.5 percent from the foul line, and their big men didn't get rebounds when they needed them.
The major problem? "Clearly defense," Rivers said. "I was really concerned at halftime. Were shooting 57 percent, they're shooting 41 percent and were up two points. I told our guys, those are awful signs for your basketball team because if you're shooting 57 percent, you should be up by 20."
In fact, the Clippers never led by more than six in the first two quarters.
"We just couldn't put them away," Crawford said. "We'd go up four, we'd go up six, and they just hung around. They just continued to hang around, and when they do that, they gave themselves chances."
So now what? The Clippers play their home opener Thursday night against the Golden State Warriors, a team that believes it can challenge for the Pacific Division title.
It's a chance for the Clippers to rebound from a disheartening loss, and an opportunity to prove they can be the team most observers think.
"We're going to have to get used to that type of energy every night," Rivers said of the Lakers. "People are going to play you like you've won something, even though you haven't."